HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fetch Your News (FYN) correspondent, Robin Webb, was granted an impromptu tour of the Old Rock Jail in Hiawassee on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green approached the site as heavy afternoon rain fell and found the reporter perched on the porch, seeking cover from the storm.
The historian was scheduled to meet an electrician in a continuing effort to restore the jail to its original glory, and kindly offered the curious journalist an opportunity to explore before the workman arrived.
“The floor restoration is our proudest achievement. Coker Custom Floors was able to preserve the original wood,” Ms. Green informed as the pair entered what was once the sheriffs’ living quarters, “and the walls are unique. The style is called grapevine.”
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 to the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The building was renovated in 1980 and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the future museum on Jan. 27, 2017.
Ms. Green guided the way through the former kitchen where a wood burning stove once stood, winding around into a narrow hallway. “I believe a desk sat there for registering the inmates,” the historian said, pointing to an area beneath the stairwell.
The intrigued reporter glanced toward the steps that lead to the desolate cells above as thunder rumbled outdoors. “Just wait until you see the up there,” the friendly historian chimed, well aware of the writer’s fascination.
The final room toured on the lower level once served as bedrooms for the sheriffs and their families. Green pointed out a marking on the wall where the room was previously separated by a partition. Once the restoration is complete, the area will become the museum’s main display section for rotating historical artifacts while the living area will be decorated seasonally to reflect and preserve the sheriffs’ dwelling.
The time had arrived to head upstairs to view the jail itself. “Watch your footing,” Ms. Green cautioned as the journalist followed closely behind. “We still need to install a railing.”
The historian swung open a heavy iron door and the duo proceeded inside. The cells were dimly lit and a dampness hung in the air. The skeletons of metal bunk beds surrounded a cage that once housed up to four inmates at any given time. Countless names were chiseled into the rock walls by the inhabitants alongside spray-painted graffiti, an act of vandals after the jail was vacated in 1977.
Across the hall lies what was once a bullpen for additional prisoners. A compact cell with the bars running diagonally lines a corner. “We believe that was the drunk tank,” Ms. Green explained.
The last upstairs room entered was the former sheriff’s office. “That’s why the walls in here are so much cleaner than the others,” the historian quipped as the reporter snapped more photographs. Military memorabilia will be placed on display throughout the jail’s upper level.
Six Towns County Sheriffs once called the Old Rock Jail home, the final being Sheriff Jay V. Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 8, 1974
FYN inquired as to when the site’s final restorations are expected to be complete. A date is unknown at the time of publishing. One thing is for certain, however. It will be a must-see spot for history lovers, both local and tourist alike.
The Old Rock Jail is located next to the Towns County Courthouse, north of Hiawassee Square.
Featured Image: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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